Regional outreach, translating materials, orientations for new filers among the initiatives funded by U.S. Department of Labor
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has been awarded a $6,779,261 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to make it easier for workers in underserved communities to access jobless benefits. This includes workers who have historically had difficulties applying for benefits, rural and urban area where residents have limited internet access, and those with language barriers.
The grant will support UIA initiatives to improve customer service, which is integral to UIA Director Julia Dale’s reform of the agency along with chasing down bad actors who steal taxpayer money, reducing the case backlog, and upgrading the agency’s computer system. The DOL grant will fund comprehensive data collection to inform future strategies, orientations for those who are new to filing for benefits, broadening language translation services and expanding community outreach throughout Michigan.
“This grant will shatter barriers that many Michiganders encounter when they apply for unemployment insurance benefits after losing their jobs,” Dale said. “It is important that we serve all residents across our diverse state by easing the benefits application process and confronting and resolving every community’s unique challenges. Navigating the benefits application can be difficult, and historically has prevented some Michiganders from seeking benefits at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable to personal financial hardship.”
The DOL’s equity grants to Michigan and 24 other states provide funding to launch projects that seek to remove barriers related to race, age, ethnicity, language proficiency, disability status, geographic location, or other systemic issues, and enable those in need to access unemployment insurance benefits.
Equitable access to jobless benefits is important to Michigan’s strong economic recovery from the global pandemic. Unemployment compensation is a lifeline for workers who lose a job, and these weekly benefits ensure that Michiganders can stay afloat, and cover rent or mortgage payments, buy food and clothing, access transportation to look for work and pay household bills. Lowering barriers to benefits with a user-focused application process will ensure timely delivery of benefits and facilitate job searches for every worker.
The grant will allow UIA to launch four initiatives:
- Develop analytics to track customer data and identify equity gaps so the agency can transition to a more proactive approach to addressing equity issues.
- Conduct new claimant orientation seminars, geared toward covering issues such as unemployment basics, filing claims, eligibility, protests and appeals, and how to remain eligible for benefits or avoid non-monetary issues.
- Translate correspondence to jobless workers and online resources to address the needs of those who do not speak English as their primary language or have visual disabilities.
- Create new partnerships with community, faith-based, or cultural organizations that help the unemployed throughout Michigan. UIA will also provide liaisons to assist with unemployment-related issues.
Each new equity strategy coincides with important reforms under Dale’s leadership. The agency is working to replace its decade-old computer system with a user-friendly, state-of-the-art interface for claimants and businesses. The agency also has revamped its website making it more responsive to those using a mobile phone or tablet to access services. UIA is working to simplify its correspondence with a human-centered approach to make letters easier to understand for claimants and employers.
Since Dale was appointed director in October 2021, she has:
- Reassigned staff and resources to address the largest categories of claims that are contributing to the agency’s case backlog.
- Implemented new ethics and security clearance policies for employees and contractors.
- Collaborated with the Attorney General’s office as well as local, state and federal law enforcement to bring bad actors to justice and combat fraud at the agency.
- Rebuilt to nearly $1.8 billion (and growing) the UI Trust Fund from which weekly benefits are paid to workers who lose their job through no fault of their own.